Last week I took a look at how Paul DeJong has been dominant this year by showing that he has been especially good on pitchers pitches - those pitches on the shadow of the strike zone. I did this using Baseball Savant's wonderful database.
Remember that the zones in the 11-19 range are the "shadow" of the strike zone - those pitches just on or just off of the plate; those pitches that tease a hitter and make him have to make a very difficult decision of whether or not to swing at all.
Paul DeJong is not the only Cardinal player living on the edge of the zone this year, defeating people in that shadow zone. John Brebbia is as well.
The entire league has thrown 41.9% of their pitches in the shadow zone in 2019. Their wOBA against is .276 when pitching to those locations.
John Brebbia has thrown 46% of his pitches in the shadow zone in 2019. Out of pitchers who have thrown at least 300 pitches, Brebbia's 46.0% puts him in the top 10% of the majors (22nd out of 231 pitchers) in shadow zone percentage for this year so far. He is over 1% higher than any other Cardinal pitchers with 300+ pitches.
When batters face pitches in the shadow zone against Brebbia this year, they have a .169 wOBA against. That's 38.8% of league average - so he's been better than league average by about 61% on those pitches!
Now, you could potentially chalk some of that up to luck, sure. Batted ball luck is always key to a good season. So is pitching incredibly well.
Brebbia is a primarily (four-seam) fastball - slider pitcher. He commands the zone well with both pitches and consistently can make hitters look bad with either one. Let's take a look at his fastball first. He has thrown the fastball 54.5% of the time in 2019, averaging 93.5 mph on the pitch with a spin rate of 2,408 rpm. Batters are swinging and missing at the pitch 32.7% of the time (up over 2% from last year's already good total). Here is one example of him getting a swing and miss fastball past a Milwaukee Brewer on Jackie Robinson day.
However, pitching on the edge (or the shadow of the zone) does not always need to produce swings and misses. These pitches can be designed to induce weak contact as well. See below, where Brebbia fools and otherwise other-worldly Josh Bell this year into hitting a ball only as far as Molina could potentially fall over laughing from his crouch and still get Bell out.
(at this point, I'd like to pause and thank @cardinalsgifs for these beauties) OK, back to regularly scheduled programming...
Brebbia is not only doing this with his fastball, however. Let's compare how those four-seam fastballs look to how he's doing with the slider. His slider has been thrown 44.1% of the time this year and runs 83.4 mph - about a 10 mph difference from his fastball. It has a 2,664 rpm spin rate which has seen a 32.4% swing and miss rate this year (up nearly 4% over last year's totals). Here is a swing and miss on rookie Victor Robles of the Washington Nationals to induce a strikeout. Robles thinks it's a fastball and has no chance once he commits.
John Brebbia, in 2017-2018 sat around the 7.5% mark in terms of how many pitches were barreled up by the competition. This year, Brebbia is inducing more weak contact by nearly double his previous totals and his barreled ball percentage against is down to just 5.4% currently. Here are two examples of him creating that weak contact with his slider, expertly avoiding the middle of the zone and making hitters try to hit his pitch.
The first pitch is him going away with a slider to Milwaukee leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain, producing a dribbler so weak that Cain nearly was able to beat it out, and might have if it weren't for should be gold glover, Kolten Wong.
The second here is Brebbia going inside to a lefty with his slider to jam and break the bat (on an 82 mph pitch) of Wilmer Difo of the Nationals. I especially love this pitch as Wong fields the ball and could walk to first with Difo literally falling on one knee and then his posterior on the swing attempt.
Let's hope that John Brebbia keeps living on the edge the right way because players do not often perform this well against pitchers' pitches. Go Brebbs!